April 16-18, 2010
Pinoy Mountaineer Friendship Climb
70+ participants from different outdoor/mountaineering groups
Major jump-off: Ambangeg, Kabayan, Benguet
LLA: 16°34’58″N 120°53’15″E, 2922 MASL (#3)
Level and days required: Level 3, 3-5 days
Hours to summit / Days required: 4-5 hours / 2 days
Specs: Major Climb, Difficulty 3/9, Trail class 3
Mt. Pulag is the highest peak in Luzon at 2,922 meters above sea level, second to Mt. Apo. The weather conditions in Pulag are extreme. In the coldest months from November-February, temperature reaches to negative 2 deg. Celsius. The perfect time to go to Pulag is from March to May where clouds would be more visible at the Summit. Despite the cool weather, it will be balanced off by the heat of the day and the cool winds.
Now any experienced mountaineer knows that there are four trails to Mt. Pulag. Ambaguio, Nueva Vizcaya, Tawangan-Lusod, Akiki and Ambageg which we took, undeniably the easiest among the four, but for some, easy can be relative. The most challenging trail which they call the Killer trail is the Tawangan Lusod and I’ve heard firsthand stories of people who took that trial. Killer was definitely the word for it.
Our climb was organized by Pinoy Mountaineer. It was a Friendship Climb that pooled together about 70 climbers from different groups. The meeting place was at Cubao Victory Liner where we took the midnight bus going to Baguio. Arriving at 6:00am, we waited for an hour to leave for the DENR Office and Ranger station via rented jeeps. On the way, we stopped by a carinderia where we had breakfast and also bought our packed lunch to eat at the campsite. Prepare for a long and rough jeep-ride both from the DENR Protected Area Office where we would be briefed (an hour from Baguio) and another three hours to get to the Ranger station. I suggest bring a pillow (haha) to sit on. believe me, you’d be glad I gave that advice. But if that’s additional baggage, never mind.
One thing you might want to consider doing is toploading, that is if you don’t mind the dust because in true-blue mountaineering fashion, it’s the way to travel. I just don’t think I’d want to be up there by the time we get to the DENR office. Not only will I hang on for dear life, I also would be tanned even before I get to Pulag. Oh, and alikabok isn’t my idea of a good lunch.
If you wanna come up to Mount Pulag, register with the Protected Areas office of DENR by calling the Superintendent at 09203013932. Best to arrange a ride from Baguio, to the DENR office, up to the Ranger Station and back down. Contact Mang Roger at 09208068656. For more questions and other stuff, just post a comment.
I really enjoyed the Orientation because I learned crucial information that I would be needing as we Climb Pulag. The hour-long orientation briefs climbers on the rules they have to abide by in Pulag. One thing commendable about Pulag is the strict enforcement of camp rules and ethics. I guess everyone agrees that Pulag is a sacred place for most of the people, hence they require the same attitude from the climbers who are only visiting. We were also given our IDs here and registered at the DENR office which the organizers already did for us. For a group of 70, we had about 8 guides with us arranged by DENR.
Some of the important tips to remember:
- bring your own garbage bag. Never leave anything in Pulag. You arrived in a clean campsite, you also leave a clean campsite.
- don’t leave food because, as the supervisor said jokingly, “you might leave kamatis seeds, they might germinate and the next time you go there, baka puro kamatis na ang Pulag.” HAHA.
- Public Display of affection NOT welcome in conservative Pulag.
- Do not make noise when up in the mountain, or even run around naked for victory. Believe me, the last thing you would want to do when you reach the summit is to run around naked, unless you want hypothermia instantly.
Getting to the Ranger Station is another three hours from the DENR office. It’s a bumpy ride, and I think it’s best to save your energy by sleeping it off. Just remember: always close the window.
After lunch and once we have settled and changed into our climbing attire, we were grouped into four teams. We were the first team to leave the Ranger station. We started our trek at around 1pm and the weather was a little hot, so you would be glad to wear warmers so as not to have those shirt tan lines which are so unattractive especially this summer. You can get warmers in any outdoor shop and they have sizes, too, of course. I opted to carry my bag (50 liters) containing my entire 2-days journey to Pulag. You can get porters for only P250 and the porters are going to be a lot of help if you’re not used to carrying your bag. The key is to get yourself a good hiking bag (about 45 liters will do) and minimize what’s inside to make it bearable.
The hike to Camp 2
Like all climb, climate is a big factor, so make sure you have enough water. We were asked to bring 2 liters of water. If you’re going to cook, bring more than that. When you’re hiking, you tend to drink more as you will get tired from walking. The hike from Ranger station to Camp 2 where we would be staying for the night is 4-5 hours depending on the pace. It’s a long trek, but I suggest you take as much time as you need. You’re not competing against anybody here. This is also not a race. Walk in your own pace, although you will be left behind by the group. But there’s also a rule that teams should wait for each other. If you think you’re going to walk slow, inform the others so you can be the tail instead. But personally, I think that the greatest challenge to this climb is yourself.
Getting to Camp 2 was the first challenge and when we saw the sign, it was as though a big rock was lifted off our shoulders. The campsite was spacious enough for all of us, but some opted to stay at Camp 3. The guides and porters willingly bring water to the climbers. We pitched our tent in a spot where, unfortunately for us, the winds blew strongest. We had already set up the tent when we overheard this one climber said to the other, “pare ang lakas ng hangin dyan eh.” Miggie and I looked at each other. “Shoot!”
You can explore the campsite, and there are peaks to go to where you can take good pictures and jumpshots. haha.
For tents, it’s advisable to bring a tadpole or Dome tent good for 2-3 people. You can get these at any outdoor shop. But if you’re not going to invest in mountaineering as a hobby, it’s best to rent or borrow. While I haven’t invested in one, what Miggie and I did was to rent a tent from the Ranger station arranged for us by the organizers. That took care of our tent worries. Now if you are like Miggie and I who did not know (or at least remembered) how to set up a tent, fear not, guides are there to assist. :-)
Dinner basically is a choice of ”to bring” or “to cook”. Either way, you will be bringing food and they always run the risk of spoiling. Which is why I would rather bring food that doesn’t spoil easily like canned tuna, bread placed in ziplocks, and fruit juice. But I guess you won’t need to worry about spoiled food because the weather acts as a refrigerator already. What you would need to bring should you decide to cook is of course your cook set. Some climbers would rather cook to really get into the whole camping atmosphere. It’s fine if you go in groups because you can assign people what to bring so you don’t carry everything in your bag. It’s not advisable for people who are only travelling in twos or even threes. Personally, I would rather bring my food than go through all the hassle of cooking in cold climate. I’m okay eating bread and tuna for dinner, and just probably add granola bar. I don’t need to eat sinigang or adobo because anyway, I’m used to eating light for dinner. If the climb is for 2 days, this will be the food arrangement:
breakfast at carinderia
lunch at Ranger Station
Dinner at Camp 2
Breakfast before the 4am hike: Most people don’t eat breakfast before the hike. Just bring water and probably granola bars to give energy, but a heavy meal isn’t practical. First of all, you’ll wake up at 3am, and around this time, the climate is at its coldest, probably 5 degrees. You will NOT have the time nor motivation to cook breakfast. Probably just have bread or cereals.
Brunch before leaving Camp 2
Advise: Make sure you have trail food like granola bar, jelly ace, chocolates and nuts. And always have them inside a pocket you can easily reach. Hiking on an empty stomach is stupid.
The comfort room for men and women are separated. When I saw their comfort room, I was quickly reminded of the one we made before in Davao for the Matigsalug tribe. Basically, it was like a 6-feet deep hole and you’re not supposed to throw your napkins or tissues in it. Some people just can’t refuse to violate. I got there and I was like, “ano ba to, bakit may tissue, sabing bawal eh.” Bring your plastic with you. Put your trash inside your plastic and bring it back with you to your tent. Anyway you have your garbage bags to be thrown at the end of the hike. There are no washing areas in the campsite. In short: walang liguan. What we did was to bring wet wipes both for the body and the face. We also had feminine wipes. Observe proper hygiene even in the mountains. Who said you have to be amoy bundok in the mountains? By the way, flies will be your nemesis here. And I’m talking BIG flies, hindi basta langaw.
Miggie, Vic and I slept earlier than everybody else. We had dinner at around 5, then slept around 7 or 8. There wasn’t much to do anyway outside in the cold. Everyone else was inside having dinner or doing socials. Put an earth pad underneath your sleeping bed. Earthpads can be bought at any outdoor shop (like the one in Park Square) and they only cost around 350. They have small and large sizes. You will need earthpads to form your bag and also so that you don’t feel the ground as you sleep in your bed. Make sure you bring thick blankets. Sabi nga ng DENR supervisor, “hindi niyo madadala yan sa malong.” I couldn’t agree more. I brought a blanket but I was still freezing. I must have woken up 5 times because of the cold. I was praying to God, “Lord, kahit sa tent nalang namin, mawala yun lamig”, but it’s something you have to prepare for. At around 1:15 when I woke up, I checked my phone and was in such a state of disbelief: What, it’s only 1am? I still have 2 hours, I can’t sleep! It was really freezing. And I was having the worst chills ever. I wanted the night to end so I could get up and prepare for the hike. I was moving to and fro, trying to get into the perfect sleeping position against the cold.
leg warmers, thermals, thick jogging pants, thick socks, wool sweater, fleece jacket. This depends on your tolerance to cold temperature. I’m one who is not made for the cold. So I had to make sure what I’m wearing can withstand or endure the cold.
Night Trek to the Summit
The only reason they call this a Night trek is because it’s dark, but really, it’s 4am. The reason for this is so we can get to the summit before sunrise. The view is breathtaking. For the night trek, IT IS IMPERATIVE that one bring flashlight or headlamp. If you invest in these, they’re actually kindy pricey. Kovea lamps go as much as P2,000. But you can just buy any headlamp in outdoor shops or even in Coleman, but MAKE SURE they have the proper batteries. The biggest mistake I made was to not check the batteries of my newly-brought headlamp. Hence, I trekked in the dark, with Vic in front of me, and with Miggie behind me. I was banking on the light they were giving through the shadows, and that was scary. First of all, you will be trekking in the dark, crossing slopes and peaks which later in the morning during the descent, you would realize they’re really scary! I slipped about 5 times during the night trek, stepped on mud and almost fell twice. It’s important to have light.
It’s also important to bring your water with you, which was another mistake I made. We were in such a hurry that I left my water bottle inside the tent. I regretted that because halfway through the climb, I was dehydrated. They all add up: extreme cold weather, no water equals a very, difficult climbing experience. You will need water the higher you get up, because the higher the altitude, the thinner the air. You will need to fill yourself up with water. I was really gasping for air and when I was about 20 minutes away from the Summit, I just sat down and stalled the group behind me. I said, “I’m sorry, i’m really dehydrated. You can go ahead, I can’t breathe na.” And this girl comes up to me and says, “I have water. Here o.” Oh boy when I drank that, I was like given a magical potion and I was immediately re-energized. It was like a Frodo-Sam moment when they relied on Lembas (the elfish food) to give them energy during their travel to Mordor. That water saved me. I started climbing up, again another Frodo-Sam moment as they were nearing Mt. Doom, and there I was just crawling my way up and there was this big push in me that said, JUST ONE MORE and you’re there! And when I reached the summit, I laid on the grass and looked at the clouds descending.
HIKING SHOES: Someone once told me that the most important thing in the outdoors, only next to your undergarments, is your shoes. Because good shoes can get you far. Don’t go to Pulag (or any other hike for that matter) wearing rubber shoes. They will not do. Go for outdoor/trekking shoes that have spikes on them which you can use during the hike. There are lot of brands out there: Merrell, Keen, Columbia, Adidas, New Balance —try investing on them. I used mine which I bought last year for my Batad climb, and I haven’t experienced any problem yet.
LAYERS: Going up to the Summit, you will need LAYERS of clothing and once you reach the summit, the last thing you want to feel is regret that you didn’t cover up yourself as much as you should have. For starters, have thermals inside. What I wore after that was a Nike black dri-fit or you can just wear long-sleeves, and then my Northface fleece Windwall jacket (which is useful against the wind, hence the name) and then a thick rainproof thermal jacket. This was enough. Don’t go for the normal jackets —believe me, they cannot stand against the cold. Go for thermal jackets that you can buy in outdoor shops or invest in. There are lots in Northface and Columbia, Mountain hardware, among others. Some sports stores like R.O.X also have them.
GLOVES: Your hands would be useless by the time they reach the summit if you don’t have the proper gloves. Don’t go for the gloves which you can just buy in Baguio. Northface has good gloves perfect for the weather. My gloves were Denali gloves that were thick enough (and they were) but I could still feel the cold. I remember telling Miggie that I feel as though blood has left my hands. And I was saying that even when I wore a really good, thick pair of gloves. You will really feel numbness in your hands up in the Summit. We were told it was 4-degrees when we got there. The wind was a big factor that added to the chill. Make sure you have something to also cover your neck and your face. You know those masks that cover the face except the eyes, the ones criminals use? (haha). You can go for that, but it doesn’t look good kasi in pictures, so sayang.
BONNET: Aside from the hands, you would most likely feel the cold in your head. An exposed head will really cause you to chill. Put on a thick bonnet and make sure your fleece or thermal jacket has a hoodie to cover you.
LIP BALM: You would need this because the cold weather will dry up your lips. Until now, my upper lip is swollen from the cold.
CAMERA: Capture the beauty of Pulag with a good camera! Advisable to have a friend who has DSLR, is a photographer and can take really good shots. The lens would moisten when you reach the summit, just be careful.
Savor the moment: You only get to Pulag once (or at least in my case), and you want to savor the moment that you are on the highest peak in Luzon, the 3rd highest mountain in the Philippines, and above the clouds! But you will not be able to enjoy it up there if you’re not properly dressed/prepared to face the climate. So preparation is the key :-)
Reaching the Summit. You don’t know how many times I wished there was a helicopter instead to take us to the summit. As for personal mountaineering victories, I consider this one of them.
Having a new sense of reverence to God for his wonderful creation. When I was up there and I saw the clouds and the mountains and the beautiful sunrise, I took a moment of prayer and thanked him for his creation. I could only wonder in amazement what Heaven is like. I’m excited! :-)